The University of New England in Maine in the USA offers an Ecology course. This past week, from January 3rd to the 11th, 22 students worked hard to try to earn extra credit towards their course. To accomplish this, they traveled to Ambergris Caye and north to Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park for an extensive eight day course on Coral Reef Ecology. Facilitated by Bacalar and Green Reef, this course aims at giving a broad based course on introduction to Coral Reef fish, corals, adaptations to marine environments as well as an introduction to Bacalar along with its history and geology. With both lectures and hands on marine training the students learned not only from books but hands on knowledge.
“It is a great program where we invited any and all universities to come and learn about our beautiful ecosystem. They get lectures but also have the opportunity to get into the water and apply what they’ve just learned,” commented Mito Paz, Director of Green Reef. Mito continued explaining that these courses are all inclusive, Green Reef picks up students at the Phillip Goldson International Airport and transports them to the water taxi. Once on the island, transportation to and from Bacalar is arranged; accommodations and meals, equipment and lectures, are included in the package deal. Mito laughs, “All they have to do is get here. Once they are here we take care of everything.”
The monies garnered from such a program, is in turn, re-invested into Bacalar’s various programs. In the past, training programs for fishermen have been truly successful. These aim at offering other incentives, such as tourism, to fishermen who, unfortunately can not make ends meet by fishing alone. “Our waters are getting overfished. We can hardly find any lobster any more. It has all been exported. Therefore, our fishermen need other means of getting money and tour guiding is always a good option,” explained Mito. However, not only do they train fishermen but also offer job opportunities to them. After last year’s training, two guides were employed by Bacalar to conduct tours around the marine reserve and park. These two guides assisted in the course that the New England students attended.
Bacalar and Green Reef are making giant strides in conservation and with the coming of the students to the island, Mito teamed up with one of the two professors, Jack Arthur, who also visited to build a “demo” hatchery for Nassau Groupers. “It is a demonstration model that we built but we have already talked to an Australian manufacturer who will build us (Bacalar) a full service Nassau hatchery for us,” stated Mito. Once operational in slightly over a year, this hatchery will be able to produce mass quantities of Groupers. These will be sold to restaurants and various patrons and will come sealed with a certificate. This certificate will ensure that the consumer is getting the highest quality and freshest product available. “We found the necessity for a hatchery on the island. By having one, we might be able to relief some stress placed on our environment. Nassau Groupers are hard to come across. Fishermen have resorted to passing off parrot and angel fish as groupers to consumers.” A study will be conducted to determine how much grouper fillets will be needed on the island and with the hatchery in place, it is Mito’s hopes that they will be able to meet the island’s demands comfortably.
However, some of the hatchlings will also be introduced to open waters in the hopes that our Nassau Grouper population could once again flourish. The “closed system” will not allow any effluent to seep outside to the environment making it ecologically friendly as well. With many programs in place, both Bacalar and Green Reef are making giant strides towards the conservation of our island’s natural resources.
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